THUNDER BAY — Residents who live near a gravel pit in Gorham Township have failed to get it shut down on the basis that it's not permitted under zoning regulations.
A recent Superior Court decision concludes a years-long legal dispute over a quarry owned by Nadin Contracting near the intersection of Copenhagen Road and Compressor Station Road.
The homeowners had expressed a variety of issues at different stages of the regulatory process, including noise and dust pollution, traffic, incompatibility with the area, and authorities' misapplication of zoning rules.
Nadin bought the property in 1999, at a time when zoning regulations didn't allow for pit and quarry aggregate operations there.
In 2006, the Lakehead Rural Planning Board approved a zoning by-law amendment to permit the operation of a gravel pit.
The company extracted aggregate intermittently for a number of years, including for the development of the Gemstone Estate subdivision in Thunder Bay.
In early 2017, because of new licensing requirements imposed by the Ontario government, operations were suspended until Nadin received a permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Some Gorham residents then filed objections with MNRF, saying Nadin planned to use the quarry on a much bigger scale than what it had initially outlined years earlier.
The MNRF next referred the company's application to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (now known as the Ontario Land Tribunal).
Ultimately, the tribunal directed the ministry to issue the licence the company had requested, and it was granted in February of this year.
This then led residents to Superior Court where they challenged the Lakehead Rural Planning Board's actions at a hearing in July.
First, they asked the judge to quash the 2006 zoning by-law amendment.
Second, they sought a declaration that aggregate resource extraction and processing on Nadin's property is not a legal non-conforming use of the site.
Both applications were dismissed.
The court noted that operations in the gravel pit have expanded over the years, and that the licence granted this year authorizes a further significant expansion of aggregate extraction.
But the judge said he found "Nadin's intended expansion and intensification of use to be a reasonable evolution of the commercial activity that has occurred on the property since 2006."
He rejected the submission that increased production has changed the type of use of the property, saying the essential purpose has remained consistent throughout the relevant time period.
A spokesperson for Nadin Contracting expressed relief over the decision, saying it ends "five years of battling."
But it's a disappointing outcome for residents, who must also pay court costs incurred by the planning board.
Property owners living in the vicinity of various existing or planned quarries just north of Thunder Bay have maintained that the regulatory process is weighted in favour of pit operators.
The Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association maintains that the aggregate industry is one of the cleanest and most highly regulated industries in the province in order "to ensure the protection of people and the natural environment."